The economic development benefits of improving early childhood teacher preparation

Laura Bornfreund of the New America Foundation has a useful recent report on improving teacher licensing and preparation for pre-k and early elementary grades.

Some highlights of this report include:

*** Too many teacher education programs set too low a bar for entry into the programs, which reduces average quality of the pool of teachers.

*** Teaching preparation programs need to include more practical classroom experience from early stages of the programs, as teaching skills are best learned and evaluated with considerable hands-on experience.

*** Pre-k teachers need to be paid compensation packages that are competitive with public school compensation packages for elementary school teachers, in order to attract and retain quality pre-k teachers.

*** Licensing and certification systems for teachers should provide specialized credentials for early childhood teachers from pre-k until 3rd grade. Licensing systems for teachers that include broad k-5 and k-6 certification often end up giving short shrift to the specialized challenges to early childhood education.

These are only the highlights from my perspective. The entire report is worth reading.

There are potentially enormous gains to even modest increases in average teacher quality in pre-k.  For example, based on my findings in chapters 5 and 12 of Investing in Kids, I calculate the “economic development benefits” of improving the average test score effects at the end of pre-k by 10%. These “economic development benefits” are increased average per capita earnings of state residents. If we enable a beginning teacher to consistently achieve such higher effects, these effects occur for all that teacher’s students over their career.  The present value of such effects is enormous. I calculate the present value of making that improvement over a teacher’s entire career at $548,000.

These dollar effects are so high for two reasons. First, test score effects at the end of pre-k are significant predictors of what happens to adult earnings. Second, a teacher’s entire career includes many students.

Such an enormous effect of higher pre-k teacher quality suggests that it pays off to invest in improving teacher quality. States looking to improve early childhood education should include a strategy for improving teacher preparation and teacher quality.

(Note to policy wonks: I assume pre-k has an average effect size of 0.50, so improving pre-k by 10% improves test scores by an effect size of 0.05. I assume that elementary test score effects are 38% of effects at the end of pre-k. I use the chapter 12 results for the present value of the earnings effects for test score improvements for one elementary student. I assume a pre-k class size of 15. I assume the pre-k teacher’s career length is 40 years. I discount all earnings effects using a real discount rate of 3% annually.)

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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